More Income, More Choices

After a particularly sumptuous dinner with a great choice of wines, my wife pointed out to me that there seem to be many more types of wine available now than when we were dating in the mid-1960s. She’s right-and it is partly a reflection of the growth of per-capita wine consumption in the U.S. But it is also a reflection of the positive income elasticity of demand for variety. As we get richer, we not only substitute toward higher-quality goods-we demand more diversity in what we consume and what we do, as Reuben Gronau and I showed in a fairly recent paper.

As another, less tasty example, the number of varieties of lettuce available today is amazing; when I was a kid, we got iceberg lettuce-there was nothing else.


Yes, and no. The variety in fruits and vegetables available to us has shrunk dramatically as demand increased industrial production of the main cash crops to the exclusion of other produce. There used to be many more varieties of produce "available" if you could travel to the locals to get them or grow them yourself. Now the food variety is actually quite limited and less nutritious.

EIleen M. Wyatt

Sampling error: were there fewer varieties of lettuce in the grocery store or is it just that your parents bought only iceberg? I distinctly recall parents preferring iceberg (possibly because it was the cheapest type) although the supermarkets of my childhood carried several types of leafy darker greens, some of which I cannot find in stores today.

The world also seems to have been reduced to two types of grape, red and green. I can get them year-round now, which can be nice... but the old varieties that didn't travel well tasted better in their season.


Rick - The supermarkets may be failing us with regard to variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, but you can at least find a large variety of seeds online. Growing your own is still a viable option for keeping a variety of delicious and nutritious fruits and veggies available.


It could also be that people buying wine want to feel like they are getting something rare. The wine just seems junkier if it is distributed as generic. There could be the same number of options out there, but a wine brand will do poorly if it is seen as common.

Options in your case must surely refer to options in brand, not in actual difference in wine. I suspect most wine drinkers can't really tell the difference beyond the label.


Rick, I disagree about your produce argument. With the rise of farmer's markets and CSA's, access to "unusual" produce is greater than ever. Our CSA distributes many strange varieties of root vegetables and over a dozen different types of lettuce. When I visit our farmer's market, I almost always come across something that I have to look up online afterwards. My most recent example of that is kohlrabi.

Sameer Vikram Babbar

You have raised a point and explained it yourself. It is your self centric point of view, it is how you see the world now, yes there may be changes around more or less ( which is irrelevant), the fact that they impact the world around "you" makes you observe these. It is very likely that your circumstances have changed


Yeah, right. You have to import coke from Mexico or Brazil to get a coke with cane sugar and taste like we had in the 50s.

gevin shaw

There was a time of great variety, though that variety was limited in a different way by seasons and distance (remember canning with your mother?).

Then there was a contraction as corporate farming flourished and needed to ensure constant revenue streams, so they limited varieties to those with the longest shelf live and sturdier constitutions, which then meant they could ship the remaining varieties farther with less spoilage.

Now there is an expansion of varieties as corporate farming takes advantage of the demand but also of the willingness they encouraged us to buy unripe produce, moving the spoilage to our pantries which makes them cheaper at the market.

All those heirloom tomatoes used to be available from your local grocery cheaply. Sometimes. All those greens used to be available, if you were close enough to where they were grown.

The market works both ways. There is what we demand and there is what the market decides to supply.



The thing to recall is that grapes (and apples, and roses, et al.) breed sexually: they swap genetics around (as humans do), and the resultant offspring are blends of the parents, not the same plant.

This has led to experimental breeding grounds to get new varieties (and not just of grapes. I am overwhelmed by apple choices). Some of those are, indeed, being made into new varieties of wine. There's a delay, often of decades, between when a new variety of something is created and patented, and when it is available for general consumption. Growing vines or trees to maturity for picking fruit takes time.


Wow, I didn't realize that Berkeley's still such a foodie paradise.

We have farmers' markets and a couple of fabulous produce places (Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market) and even the normal supermarkets have four kinds of conventional lettuce, two of organic, and a baby lettuce spring mix.

Even when I travel to other places in California and wander through their gigantic supermarkets, they usually have green-leaf lettuce and maybe red, often fresh spinich leaves. They're trying, I can tell.

Is it really so different everywhere else? Maybe you guys don't go grocery shopping very much?

Carl leonhardSr.

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Soviet Union. Mao China or Castro Cuba nation.>
The present leadership for some unknow reason are indoctrinated into Commuism.Check out there Backgrounds.
Putin could not do a better job of appointing Communist in Goverment

David L

I would venture to guess, rather than an increased American standard of living causing the increased wine selection, that the two outcomes are not causally related and have instead both been caused by increased globalization. Cum hoc ergo propter hoc.

EIleen Wyatt

avirr (#10) -- I suspect it makes a difference to be near major agricultural centers. Virtually nothing in my local supermarket produce section is grown locally, nor can it be without major technological intervention. I didn't grow up here, so I probably have my own sampling error -- for all I know, the local grocery used to have one variety of lettuce instead of two. We're up to FOUR varieties of apple and proud of it!



The grape varieties made into wine are the same varieties that have been made into wine for hundreds of years. Varietals and blends that were once only common in Europe are now more widely available, and new territories have their own spin on European classics, but nearly any wine that isn't from a European "clone" is just grape juice gone bad.


The argument is too simplistic. How much has changed because of the availability of information. I wouldn't even KNOW of other varieties back in the day, yet alone how I could order them. Today, a quick internet search or review of a message board, will tell me about all sorts of things I never knew existed before. That creates the demand that will bring about supply.

Also - how much has the ease of shipping changed things? I may have been able to get the same number of things before, but it would have been too costly/difficult to get them. This is particularly true of produce.


But sometimes we get TOO many choices and the decision making process turns dysfunctional. Look what happened with the Medicare donut hole when elderly people had to learn to use a computer to choose from hundreds of different drug providers who each had a different plan. It didn't help the consumer one damn bit but confusion sure helped the drug companies. It added all sorts of hidden costs to the consumer. It's a big waste of time when you get too many choices, espcially when it adds to the cost without delivering what you want.

I go to the supermarket looking for Manhattan clam chowder and find 20 varieties of New England clam chowder but no Manhattan. It's a waste of shelf space and time, especially for people who have trouble deciding about anything.

But we never get choice or competition in the important things in life (health insurance providers, the doctors who are in that plan, competitive credit cards). We can pay for 200 channels on cable but we only have time to watch one at a time. Probably 100 of them are infomercials so they should be paying us to watch them instead. Probably only 5 channels have anything worth watching and the political spectrum of the news and talk shows is way to the far reich, but little content for the other side.

At some point the consumer doesn't have enough information or time to make an informed choice. I'd rather hang out with somebody I like than sorting through all the differences in investments available now. All the bureaucracy supporting multiple choices in investment instruments doesn't increase my income, but it creates all sorts of loopholes for the game players who created them to make a killing grabbing my money. What did credit default swaps and bonuses based on securitized mortgages and variable-rate mortgages give to the homeowners except higher risk and higher mortgage payments and inflated prices? The old one-choice 30-year fixed-rate mortgage would have done just fine for most people.

Why do drug companies advertise on TV for all those drugs with side-effects that involve bowel-leakage? Most consumers don't have medical degrees. It's time we let experts do their jobs once in awhile and sort through all the crap for us. Why do we need to choose between 20 varities of toilet paper? The marketing costs must be very high in this kind of environment.


thomas meixner

And since more choices paradoxically does not always lead to more happiness maybe more income does not lead to more happiness as well at least beyond some basic level.


Maybe, but just because we have more money to spend on variety and perceived quality doesn't mean were actually getting it.

Recently there was a scandal with French wine company Red Bicyclette selling Merlot and Syrah wines as more expensive "Pino Noir". The company released a statement saying that over the 2 years this was being sold, they did not receive a single complaint from an American about the wine.

Reminds me of a study I think I saw on this site. In blind taste tests people prefer cheap wine to the "good" stuff.

Eric M. Jones

"...many more types of wine available now than ... the mid-1960s. She's right..."

Maybe, maybe not. Do you mean LABELS? I don't sense there being many more wines. They mix a little of this or that but that doesn't make them different wines. They mix oak chips and toasted barley into it. But that doesn't make it a different wine.

Red or white, screw top or cork, fizzy or not. Makes you drunk. Well....?

Or did she mean, 1961, 1962, 1963...etc. So there are 50 more vintages than there were.


Also, since the Paris Tasting of 1976, the wine market has been open to all comers. It was not previously.

This is a supply issue, not a demand issue.